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Past Exhibitions

African Mask/Masquerade: More Than Meets the Eye

January 25–September 14, 2014

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Mask by Lwalwa Artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Lwalwa Artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mask, ca. 1875-1950
Wood, 11 inches
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Fred and Rita Richman Collection, 2004.150.
Photo by Peter Harholdt

People often think of African masks as wooden face coverings that hang on museum walls. Within their original communities, however, African masks performed in full costume to serve many vital functions. Music, song and dance are essential to their effectiveness.

The diversity of creative expression of African masks and masquerades is unparalleled. Masquerades are used to transmit ancestral wisdom from generation to generation. Communal performances help promote social harmony by encouraging collaboration, rewarding individual accomplishments, and celebrating community achievements. Some masquerades use humor to provide social critique and discourage antisocial behavior. Many masquerades continue today – even within African Diaspora communities in Atlanta – forever reinvigorated and adapted to contemporary life.

To highlight a group of generous recent gifts and Museum purchases, this show brings together dynamic works of art from western and central Africa, including several masquerades in full costume.

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